Ranking US National Parks by New & Fascinating Statistics
This article covers one of my favorite topics – national parks. Writing it was truly a labor of love, as these protected lands are so special and important to me. The featured image seen above are photos I shot during trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park & Virgin Islands National Park. The Ramsey Cascades and Trunk Bay beach are unique standouts of their respective parks However, the last photo contains something more universal – a curious hiking trail leading off into the wilderness.
That sense of exploration is the magical draw of visiting these lands. National parks allow visitors to explore the wonders of our natural landscape in breathtaking fashion. The National Park Service leads the way in preserving these natural landscapes. In addition to parks, the NPS also takes care of monuments, historic sites, memorials, recreation lands and other protected areas of importance.
I wanted to learn more about visitation to these NPS areas, specifically on our national parks. After spending time with the NPS Visitor Use Statistics database, I came away with some fascinating takeaways. My findings are presented below in various charts and visual aids. Let’s get to it!
Ranking U.S. National Parks by Visitors & Size
See the following chart, which illustrates the relationship between park visitation and land acreage. The national parks chosen were the 10 most-visited in 2016.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a notable outlier here, as it draws twice as many visitors as the other parks. It lacks the grand size of the Western national parks. However, it lies in the higher-populated Eastern United States and is easily accessible from many large cities. In contrast, Yellowstone National Park is massive but is located in lowly-populated Wyoming.
Have you visited any of these parks? If so, tweet us @CuriousMeasures with a photo or comment! We’ll hit you back with our own NP media.
Ranking NPS Areas by Type: Parks, Monuments & More!
To my surprise, the NPS database includes statistics on more than just its’ park lands. It includes data on all protected areas, including the following:
- Historic Sites
- Recreation Areas
By broadening our scope to include these protected locations, we get a fuller picture of America’s most famous national treasures. See below for a Tableau-driven story showing the most visited NPS areas by these 5 types. The results might surprise you!
Click through each of the 5 tabs to complete the “stat story”:
Have you visited any of the memorials? If you’ve ever been to Washington D.C., they would have been hard to miss. As for the historic sites, Lincoln-related locations are quite popular. His home in Illinois makes the list, as does the scene of his murder at Ford’s Theatre.
One of California’s National Monuments, the Muir Woods, are even known to be a favorite hangout spot for apes…
All kidding aside, there are so many protected areas that you have likely visited. In addition to the “Top 10” lists show above, I’m including a condensed “Top 25 Overall” ranking of 2016’s most visited NPS areas:
Interesting Finds on Seasonal Visitation
So we know which national parks are visited most frequently. Here is an important question to ask when planning a trip: when should you go? Each park differs in their peak visitation seasons, mostly due to their geographical location. Warm-weathered parks are more attractive to visit in winter, and vice versa. To further illustrate this, I’ve ranked the parks by the following metrics:
- SPRING%: # of visitors in Spring / Total annual visitors
- SUMMER%: # of visitors in Summer / Total annual visitors
- FALL%: # of visitors in Fall/ Total annual visitors
- WINTER%: # of visitors in Winter / Total annual visitors
See below for the national park with the highest percentage in each season…
… as well as the national park with the lowest percentage in each season:
Regarding Katmai National Park, its’ 1% spring-time visitation may be due to one reason: IT’S FULL OF FREAKING BEARS!! Yes, the Alaskan brown bear is protected in this wilderness area. Would you visit here during mating season? Outside of this adventurous fellow below, I would bet not:
As for the highest visitation rates, Shenandoah leads the pack in fall visitation. As a park mostly known for beautiful drives along its’ mountain ridge, it is no wonder why people flock to see the rainbow of autumn colors:
Ranking National Parks by Overnight Stays
One last interesting stat that I found was total overnight stays. Data was gathered on the annual amount of people who stayed overnight in a national park during 2016. The five highest-ranking parks in this measure are as follows:
It’s interesting that the Smokies attract twice as many visitors as Yosemite, yet more people stay overnight in the California park. In general, more remote areas are likely to house more overnight lodgers.
For a deeper dive, the NPS breaks down overnight stays by 5 types:
- Backcountry camping
- Concessioner campsite
- Park lodge
- RV camping
- Tent camping
I sorted the data to find the leading national parks in each category. The results help tell the makeup of each park:
- Badlands NP: Leader in “Campsite%”; 69.5% of its’ overnighters reside in official concessioner campgrounds. It does have overnights in the other 4 categories, but not many.
- Dry Tortugas NP: Leader in “Tent%”; a whopping 100% of visitors stay overnight in tents. There is no lodge or campground, so this is the only possible way to stay at the park.
- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Leader in “Lodge%”; 73% of visitors stay in a park-sanctioned lodge. I wonder if the backcountry campers stay close to the volcanoes…
- Hot Springs NP: Leader in “RV%”. If you own a RV, then this is your park! 85% of campers brave the wilderness in their vehicle.
- Saguaro NP: Leader in “Backcountry%”. The desert landscape here only allows for backcountry camping if you want to watch the night sky.
National Parks Wrap-Up
I learned so much by visiting and interacting with the National Park Service’s online database. There is a wealth of information available for anyone wanting to learn more about these protected lands. Reports can be ran on so many more topics than what I presented above. While I was most interested in visitor information, you can research other topics by visiting the website for yourself. I highly recommend doing so if you are an avid visitor of the parks. To do so, click here.
Let me know your thoughts on the information presented above. You can leave a comment below, tweet @PaulAblesCM or comment on Instagram @curiousmeasures.
This topic was so much fun to learn about. Writing this article was truly a joy! Hopefully, you learned something new & consider visiting some of these parks in the near future. Thank you so much for reading!